Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Watson Selection Task (1977)

Who: Peter Watson

Testing: Logical ability

Result: Abysmal 

I first discovered the Watson Selection Test in a book about the short comings of human cognition. When I came upon this test, being the narcissist that I am, thought that I would surely do well. I failed. Here it is...

When I first attacked this I had a few thoughts. One was, how can I possibly be absolutely sure that all 4 cards are holding up the rule if I don't check all of them? But the directions say I can only flip two. So My next guess was to flip the D and the 5. I thought since the rule only effects these two, then these two are all I have to verify. Wrong. 

The correct answer is to check the D and the 2. Don't get it? You and I are in the same group as 90% of people who attempt this little game. Watson claims we are so bad at this because these letters and numbers are arbitrary and if we were given symbols that had more meaning to us, that we'd fair much better. 

The rule here is that you must be over 21 to have a Beer. So, imagine these 4 squares are people in a bar and you are the police. Which two do you have to check to make sure all are adhering the drinking age limit? 

This problem was much easier for me. If I was the officer I would check the square with the beer and the 17 year old. The person drinking a soda and the fool over 25 are of no concern to me.

Implications: Humans are horrible at arbitrary logic. Logic without real world meaning is an artificial creation and is one of the crowning achievements of the Western world. We are not good at it. This isn't nessicarly the problem, thinking we are great at it is what is. Humans, and Americans more so than anyone else thinks they are great at logically assessing the world. You can find examples of this in all facets of life, I won't provide a list.

If anything should be taken away from this study--it is to be humble. You will be wrong often. Learn. Be better. 

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